BOSTON – Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made the calculation that prices were so high on rental players leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday that it would be better to spend on a player the Bruins could control beyond this season.
That player turned out to be 22-year-old forward Brett Connolly, who the Bruins acquired early Monday morning from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a trade for second-round picks in the 2015 and 2016 NHL Drafts. Connolly has 12 goals and 15 points in 50 games this season.
The Bruins didn’t have a lot of maneuverability below the NHL salary cap to make a bigger trade without also trading a player with a large salary. Connolly carries a salary-cap charge of $851,000 this season, according to nhlnumbers.com.
"For us, we’re obviously under a cap crunch. But it’s just hard to get a deal done," Chiarelli said at TD Garden on Monday. "And you see that the prices are so high that it makes it prohibitive. And that’s really why we ended up going towards Connolly rather a rental. We looked really across throughout the forward rental market. He’s a young guy. He’s going to be with our group for a while. We will control his rights and he’s going to grow into a good player and he can help us now. So looking to the future but also to the present. And that’s necessitated by the prices. And what we looked at was, if we’re going to spend the picks that we’re going to spend, let’s look at all options, not just rental options."
Later in the day the Bruins acquired fourth-line forward Maxime Talbot from the Colorado Avalanche along with Paul Carey from the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League. The Bruins traded forward Jordan Caron and a sixth-round pick in 2016 to the Avalanche.
Talbot has five goals and 10 assists in 63 games this season. But the Bruins acquired him for his 84 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience, which includes 24 games with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
The Bruins are the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with 71 points at the start of play Monday. Chiarelli wanted to do more to improve their chances of qualifying for the postseason and make a lengthier run. However, he shied away from spending a larger amount. In particular, he said he wanted to retain his 2015 first-round pick.
"I feel that we’ve improved the team. And as I said, I think this is a good group, and some years, you don’t win the Presidents’ Trophy. Some years, you finish sixth or seventh. Some years, you don’t make the playoffs," Chiarelli said. "[It’s] incumbent that we make the playoffs, and you have down years for reasons that I won’t get into. But you all know why, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you do. We’ve tried to improve the team. We feel we’ve improved the team, and we hope for a good run coming up."
Connolly was drafted with the sixth pick in 2010. He is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1. He has 18 goals and 14 assists in 84 NHL games.
He had 73 points for Prince George of the Western Hockey League in 2010-11, and 63 points with Syracuse of the American Hockey League in 2012-13. So his drop-off in production might have been because of a lack of opportunity with a deep Tampa Bay team.
"I see a top-six forward. And if you look at all his goals, he’s a shooter. He’s a shooter first," Chiarelli said. "He’s a net-front guy. He’ll go and get goals at the top of the blue [paint]. He’s a rangy guy. He makes plays, but he’s a shoot-first guy. I really like his release. And he’s young and he’s growing and he’s going to be a top-six player."
Connolly, a right-handed shot, will find some competition with the Bruins; 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnak, Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson are the top three right wings. Chiarelli said he and coach Claude Julien had not discussed where Connolly will fit in.
Connolly said he is looking forward to a fresh start with a new organization.
"Yeah, for sure, I think I’m going to get a little bit more of an opportunity in Boston," Connolly said. "Obviously we had a deep forward group in Tampa. So again I’m very excited to get to Boston and find out my role and meet the guys and kind of settle in. So I’m excited to get down there."
The Bruins missed out on some of the bigger names available and decided to not upgrade on defense. They have been thin on the back end since their salary-cap troubles caused them to trade Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for draft picks just before the start of the regular season. A recent injury to Kevan Miller also depleted Boston’s defense.
The Bruins have six defensemen on their roster and a few playing with Providence of the AHL who have experience. Chiarelli decided it was worth it to stand pat when it came to depth defensemen or even a player who could be plugged into the top four.
"There were other defensemen that were better than that group of depth defensemen that were available. They were some contingencies attached that I didn’t like on the some of the D," Chiarelli said. "And really, in fact, getting Connolly opened it up a little bit from the perspective. But when you look at what Joe Morrow’s done for us, when you look at what David Warsofsky’s done for us, when you look at what Zach Trotman’s done for us, and even Chris Breen, he hasn’t been up, but we sign these guys for depth, we tell them they’re depth guys [with Providence]. We didn’t sign Joe for depth. But when they sign back, they want a chance. So part of it is owing to them. Part of it is that exercise of looking at that cluster of kind of six, seven, eighth defensemen, comparing it to what we have. So that was the rationale behind that."